Retail sales of legal marijuana have been underway in Washington state for more than four years—and state regulators in charge of quality control still aren’t sure what good cannabis is, or how to test for it.
All product sold in stores is supposed to be tested for mold, pesticides and other contaminants by labs evaluated and accredited by a private company under contract.
That will change sometime soon. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, which regulates marijuana sales, has until January 15 to come up with recommendations for how the state should begin accrediting testing labs.
But in order to do that, regulators—or state lawmakers, or both—have to decide what, exactly, makes good weed. And nobody—not in Washington state, nor elsewhere in the U.S. where marijuana is legal—can seem to agree what that is, according to a draft government report posted online Thursday.
“Current quality standards… are insufficient to support a robust, science-based cannabis laboratory accreditation program,” the Washington Department of Ecology document says.
A “Cannabis Science Workgroup” comprised of experts in chemistry, biology, medicine and other fields to determine minimum standards for cannabis quality should be formed, wrote Sara Sekerak, a senior chemist and project manager at the department.
To reach this determination, researchers with the agency reviewed quality-control standards in four states. They found that “[w]idely accepted quality standards for testing cannabis and cannabis products do not yet exist.”
“Accreditation does not designate product standards or quality standards,” the report adds. “However, these are necessary to support meaningful accreditation.”
Eventually, testing labs in Washington will be accredited by a state agency. Until that happens, quality may remain erratic.
Because of weak or nonexistent state rules, labs “are allowed to design their own levels” of quality control and quality assurance. There are no readily available samples of agreed-upon “quality” cannabis to set a basic standard by, as there is for drinking water and other consumer goods.
Untrained workers collecting samples for testing may taint the samples. And current accreditation standards applied by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are not sufficient, the report found.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
Washington Still Doesn’t Know What Good Marijuana Is (Or How To Test For It)
Nick Dice, the owner of Medical MJ Supply, knows what can happen when bugs and mildew attack marijuana plants.
The Fort Collins, Colo., shop owner said he has watched as other businesses have fallen apart because of the havoc that pests and disease can cause. That is why previously, in his grow room, cultivators used mildew and pesticide treatments on the plants roughly every three to four days. Now, according to Dice, they focus on cleanliness:
“We have people who that’s their only job is to look for any infections or anything that could cause potential damage to the crop.”
The dedication to keep hazards at bay has yielded Dice a vibrant, healthy crop that is already in its third or fourth week. His grow room is filled with knee-high marijuana plants, which he estimates to be valued at up to $180,000. He attributes his success to using products to keep the plants clean.
Dice is not the only grower who has used chemicals to protect a cannabis crop. In states where either medical or recreational marijuana is legal, many growers are using pesticides. After all, a damaged crop will take a toll on a company’s bottom line. However, the federal government, which regulates which chemicals a farmer can use, has not addressed the situation with marijuana plants.
Experts say that other agribusinesses have standards for the fungicides and pesticides that are safe to use. For example, people who cultivate tobacco have a list of pesticides that have been approved by the government. Marijuana farmers do not have any, as the federal government has stayed away from the topic.
Agriculture officials in Colorado did recently put out a list of what they considered appropriate pesticides for cannabis. Other states, such as Illinois, Nevada and Washington have followed suit.
However, the industry is still largely without direction in the area. Therefore, many growers are simply going on what works or what they deem is appropriate, according to Whitney Cranshaw, an entomologist at Colorado State University. Cranshaw spoke on these issues:
“Sometimes they’ve used some things that are inappropriate, sometimes unsafe.”
The lack of regulations has sparked some safety concerns for both what is happening to the plant and the effects it could have on the consumer. American Cannabis Company plant expert Brett Eaton noted that because the marijuana industry is new, there simply are not policies in place to regulate pesticides. Without these rules, Eaton said that harmful pesticides could be sprayed onto plants, even right before they are harvested.
Denver officials cited safety concerns and put tens of thousands of cannabis plants on hold until an investigation is complete.
As the marijuana industry continues to grow, so will the need for determining which chemicals are safe and appropriate to use and which are not. Experts say that science, policy and growers self-regulating will lead to a solution.
photo credit: npr
Cannabis legalization in states like Colorado, Washington, and Oregon has enabled manufacturers and retail shops to offer a range of products far in excess of raw flowers, or bud. Many dispensaries and shops sell edibles, tinctures, oils, and concentrates to attract customers and offer THC in as many forms as possible.
Concentrates Gaining Popularity
Concentrates are gaining popularity among both recreational and medical users due to their potency. Based on a solvent-based extraction process, concentrates offer a higher percentage of active chemicals than raw flowers.
When it comes to cannabinoids like THC, CBD, and CBG, patients want as much potency as they can get. THC levels as high as 80 percent in concentrates, compared to only 10-25 percent in regular bud, give an idea of how active chemicals in the plant can ultimately triple or quadruple in their percentages.
This is true of good molecules, like THC, but also bad molecules, like pesticides. In a recent round of investigative reporting, Portland’s The Oregonian purchased 10 samples of concentrates from retail Oregon dispensaries. Eight of the 10 samples tested positive for pesticides. Three of those eight failed to meet Oregon’s limits for residual pesticide levels.
One of the concentrates contained a common ingredient in ant and roach sprays that was present at 21 times more than allowed by the state. Another of the samples was labeled organic, but turned out to contain a chemical found in flea and tick remedies. Another sample, the most contaminated, tested positive for seven chemical compounds. Thus, chemicals that the federal government prohibits on food are being smoked by at least some of the more than 70,000 medical cannabis users in Oregon.
More Than Half Tainted
Further evidence is provided by OG Analytical, a lab in Oregon. Rodger Voelker, a molecular biologist and the lab’s scientific director, has long suspected that many concentrates contained high levels of pesticides. Voelker tested 154 concentrate samples, including oils, from October 15 to December 31, 2014. He discovered that more than half were tainted.
However, Voelker failed only about a quarter of the samples he tested as being in violation of Oregon’s medical marijuana testing rules. Why? Because Oregon law prohibits a limited list of pesticides and toxins. In addition to pesticides, Voelker said he found a chemical typically used by landscapers to improve golf course turf that is prohibited for use on food.
Unfortunately, these findings illustrate the fact that concentrates are about 10 times more likely to contain pesticides than regular whole-plant cannabis flowers. The newfound legitimacy of retail cannabis in legal states introduces several regulatory assurances for consumers, such as laboratory testing for contaminants. Unfortunately, as illustrated by Oregon, this testing isn’t always accurate or thorough. In fact, there are several pesticides and chemicals for which Oregon law doesn’t even require testing. For those chemicals, any amount is permitted.
Because of the very nature of concentrates, raw flowers that test within limits for prohibited pesticides may not result in concentrates that do the same. Because Oregon doesn’t currently require testing of concentrates, there’s no ready solution to this problem.
Based on the results obtained by The Oregonian, Oregon might want to update its medical marijuana testing guidelines to include products like concentrates. In addition, critics claim that the state should also test for additional pesticides and toxic chemicals to ensure that the products being distributed through Oregon’s roughly 300 dispensaries remain clean and protect patients.
Photo credit: Beth Nakamura; Promaxindia.in; wixstatic